Cloud or Hard Drive Backups?

Which Should You Do? Cloud or Hard Drive Backups?

Flying home from a conference yesterday, I had a man and his wife sitting next to me.  I was reading a book on  my iPad to pass the time.  When the wife went to the bathroom, the man started asking me questions about my iPad.  Not sure why he waited until she went to the bathroom, but I digress. Anyway, we chatted for a while, and then I went back to reading. His wife returned, and I heard him telling her about our conversation.  Every few minutes, he would apologize for interrupting me and ask if it was ok to ask another question.  This was only for the last 30 minutes of the flight, and I like talking about technology, so it wasn’t annoying.

How Do You Backup Your Data?

One of my seatmate’s questions was about how to perform backups. He came to this question because I told him I keep everything in the cloud and he wondered whether I perform backups as well.

I explained to him that my data is always backed up to two locations, whether they both be on the cloud or one on the cloud and one on a physical medium.  I told him that my recommendation to my clients is that they back up in two places as well.

Never, I said, should someone just back up his stuff on a physical drive. He said he had just bought a drive backup and he winced. I said it is ok, just use iCloud in addition (he is an Apple person.) He told me he was retired, so we aren’t dealing with business documents. I explained to him my concerns about just a physical drive, and suggested he backup anything very important to him to the cloud as well as to his physical drive. He agreed my suggestions were logical and asked whether he would get a bill. I said it would be hard to bill you, since I don’t know your name.  I digress again.

Why Backup Twice?

The reason I recommend backing up in two locations is that if one location fails, the other is not likely to do so.  I cannot tell you how many times I have had people call me in a panic because something happened to their computers and their backups failed.  I should note I find this to be more common with physical backups than I do with cloud backups. Probably because people are setting up the physical backups themselves and don’t do it correctly.

Why Physical and Cloud?

There are several reasons I recommend both physical and cloud. If someone is only performing one type of backup, I suggest cloud.  Here is my thinking.


Most people default to a physical backup, which makes sense, the cloud is new, relatively speaking.  The problem with performing only a physical back up is that if your computer and backup drive are stolen or damaged due to a fire or flood, you will be out of luck times two. So just performing a physical backup is a bad idea.  Also, if your physical backup is stolen and not encrypted, you now have a serious confidentiality issue. So if you do a physical backup and are concerned about confidentiality, make sure the backup is encrypted. Some people will perform a physical backup and take it off site. That is fine, but a bit of a pain.


If you have a fire or flood and are backed up to the cloud everything will still be safe.  If the site where your stuff is backed up has a fire or a flood, well, be sure you pick a place that has backups for your backups. As far as cloud limitations, if you should lose your Internet connection, you won’t be able to perform your backup, or restore your backup if everything is in the cloud.  Also, if your backup is large, it can take quite a while to download it from the cloud. For example, if you backup your movies and music to the cloud and need to restore them, that can take days, depending on how many gigs you have backed up.  As a result, if you have a lot of movies and music, or just a very large backup, it is better to keep those things on a drive in addition to the cloud, for a faster restore. It is important to make sure the cloud backup you use is encrypted and secure. Since the data will be out of your hands, make sure you research the service you use to perform your cloud backup.


My hard drive backup is a military grade drive, more protected than the usual. It is an ADATA DashDrive Military-Spec USB 3.0 External Hard Drive. On this drive I have music, pictures and videos.  It is not encrypted because I do not have client data on it.  My main cloud backup is Spideroak.  Spideroak is encrypted and zero knowledge. This means the folks at Spideroak do not know my password.  My email is on two computers and is backed up to Microsoft through my Office 365 service.  All of my documents are also backed up to Skydrive which is a Microsoft product. I encrypt the drive, because it is not encrypted on its own. I use Skydrive because it is included with Office 365.  I sometimes use Dropbox for sharing of large files.  Mainly because originally Spideoak did not have a drag and drop service. Now it does, so I will be switching to using Spideroak for this kind of sharing as well. Dropbox is not encrypted on its own, so you will need to encrypt it if you use it.


There a lot of options for encryption.  Here is a well-written article from PCWorld on cloud encryption.  As far as encrypting your hard drive, there are a number of options. These days you can actually buy a self-encrypting hard drive. You can also install software.  Here, again from PCWorld, are instructions and options.


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